And Now The Caplan Has Been Cloned!

Bryan Caplan:

Now that I’m finishing up Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, another controversial passage is on the chopping block.  In the current draft, this paragraph concludes my discussion of cloning:

I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally.  Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet.  Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.  Seriously.  I want to experience the sublime bond I’m sure we’d share.  I’m confident that he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.  I’m not pushing others to clone themselves.  I’m not asking anyone else to pay for my dream.  I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone.  Is that too much to ask?

My reasons to keep it, as before, are: (a) it makes a good point, and (b) angry reactions would confirm my broader thesis that many people senselessly oppose assisted reproductive technology.  The downside, of course, is alienating otherwise sympathetic readers.  The upside of the downside is that controversy is excellent publicity.  Should my cloning confession make the final cut?

Advise me.

Tyler Cowen:

If you don’t like his proposal for a cloned son, I will ask why you think your preferred degree of genetic similarity — between you and your next kid — is right and Bryan’s is wrong.

More Cowen:

I don’t have the same preference as Bryan, far from it.  I think most of us desire children who are “too similar to us” and there are obvious Darwinian reasons why this is the case.  Nonetheless we should try to overcome this attitude and there are many successful instances of adopted children or various other “mixed” arrangements, such as foster parents.  We can only hope there will be more and that means we need a greater flexibility of intuitions about parenting and inheritance.

As a proud step-parent, I find it increasingly odd how many of you insist on the “fifty percent solution.”  Ew!  What if it — heaven forbid — looks like you?  What if you’re both economists named Keynes?  But there’s more: the rest of your daughter looks just like the woman you chose to marry?  Yuck!!!!!  And so on.  Maybe you all think that fifty percent is great but one hundred percent is unacceptable, when it comes to the genes.  Good luck arguing that one with a committed nominalist.  And I bet most of you don’t find it repugnant if a father wants a son rather than a daughter, but similarity of gender is pretty important too.

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)  Furthermore I think his intuitions about similarity, and child-rearing, will change once (some of) his kids start rebelling against him.

Most of all, I found this thread to be a lesson in how quickly smart people will side with their Darwinian intuitions, and attack another smart person with intolerance, just because something feels icky to them.  It’s not so different from how some people find gay people, and also “what they do,” to be disgusting.  They also don’t want gay people to be adopting children because they see that as offensive too.  It’s not, least of all for the child.

That all said, I guess he shouldn’t put the passage in his book.

Brad DeLong:

Before, all he wanted was to claim that women in the 1880s were “more free” than women today–than, for example, the character Carrie Bradshaw played by Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”

Now–well, read for yourself


He wants to take the genes of the mother of his children out of the baby she is carrying and substitute his own genes in their place.

Wow. Just wow.

Steve Sailer:

Unfortunately, Professor Caplan doesn’t inform us what his wife thinks about his desire to create a child untainted by her genes. Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan bear his clone for him? Does Professor Caplan intend to have Mrs. Caplan pick up after his clone for 21 years? Will Mrs. Caplan appreciate it when she and her husband’s immature clone get into an argument and Professor Caplan sides with his clone against his wife? Will she be concerned that he might favor his clone in his will over their mutual children?

Of course, that’s assuming that Bryan’s assumption that he and his clone would be Best Friends Forever is correct. More likely, the opposite would be true.
Generally speaking, people who would like to clone themselves tend to be arrogant and lacking in common sense. Their children will tend to also be arrogant and lacking in common sense. The interpersonal dynamics between cloner and clonee would likely be disastrous.
Are families in which the sons are exactly like the fathers happier? I don’t see a lot of evidence for that. In fact, I see a lot of evidence from memoirs and fiction that strong-willed fathers tend to have strong-willed sons, and the two clash relentlessly over who will be dominant. Too much similarity does not always make for happiness within a family.

Both Sailer and DeLong via Andrew Sullivan

More Sullivan

Jim Henley:

Caplan’s paragraph isn’t creepy because he wants to rear his own clone, but Caplan’s paragraph is creepy. Wanting to rear your own clone is eccentric, sure, and more than a little narcissistic, but I have a “Keep the Blogosphere Weird” bumper sticker across my Macbook screen, and man does it make blogging harder. To this day, I’m glad that Kim du Toit wrote the hilarious “Pussification of the Western Male” because, ridiculous as the essay was, it was exactly the kind of eccentricity – total, fucking eccentricity – DARPANet knew the country needed if it was going to survive a nuclear attack by the Russians.

The creepy part is compounded of his certainty that he and his clone-son will share a “sublime bond” and his avidity for it.

Tyler Cowen is right that it’s a bit narcissistic when we men prefer at least one son to only daughters. Caplan’s narcissism is so much greater and denser than that that I suspect it has an event horizon. But it’s worse than that.

For one thing: Let’s consider the Cap-Clone as a person in his own right for a second. That’s a hell of a lot of expectation to burden a kid with. Returning to Tyler’s “50-percent solution” parents again, we already know the minor and major tragedies that can ensue when parents have too-specific, too-intense hopes for their children. Caplan’s rebounding conviction that “he’d be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me,” is every overbearing Dad’s determination that Junior become the same great athlete dad was/heir to the family business/doctor he could never be collected together and crushed down until the electrons all collapse into their nuclei. And Caplan is old enough that he should realize this.

For another thing: no, it’s not misogynist as such, but wanting to cut your wife out of the breeding program in hopes of a super-special dad-son relationship of a kind your actual existing children can’t provide strikes me as, at the very least, something better kept to yourself.

And, then, what if the joke’s on Caplan? Meaning, why is he so certain his bond will be all that sublime? Those of us who read Gide’s La Symphonie Pastorale in French class are surely thinking, “Thank heavens there was a movie version, even if it had subtitles.” But also: “Man, sometimes these things don’t work out so well.” cf. “Pygmalion.” (Why can’t a baby / be more like a professor?) Our protegées have a distressing habit of not being us, and resenting us for not being cool with that. The Google tells me that there’s no evidence that twins suffer higher degrees of sibling rivalry than singleton kids, and the anecdotal literature includes, yes! some sublime bonding (that causes its own problems). But monozygotic twins don’t just share chromosomes. They share environments, experiences and generational context. They are peers. Bryan Caplan and the Cap-Clone will be different ages, from different eras. Whatever experiences they share, one of them will experience it as a naive, only partially matured intellectual, emotional and moral being, and the other as a little kid. (STOP MAKING ME SAY THESE THINGS, DAVID HOROWITZ!) Plus, the Cap-Clone’s music will be just noise.

Jason Kuznicki at The League:

Bryan, I’m right with you about the stupidity of anti-cloning arguments. Most of them are just plain silly and not even worth discussing (“Will clones be less than human?” Only if you treat them that way…). Many anti-cloning arguments were trotted out not so long ago about IVF, and before that they had an equally dismal run against the smallpox vaccine. Hooray for cloning!

But here’s where you’re wrong. You are deluding yourself when you say you will experience a “sublime bond” with your cloned son. The bond will be no more, and possibly a good bit less, than the bond shared between identical twins. Romanticizing cloning is just as silly as demonizing it. And the more you insist on the reality of that sublime bond, the more your cloned son is going to rebel against you. Perhaps he will even end up as a Marxist. It would serve you right, frankly.

I also have to say I am always puzzled when people — it seems to be exclusively straight people — valorize their own genes so much. Your genes are nothing special. They are shared by thousands of other people, in different combinations, all across the world. What you do or don’t do with them will scarcely affect your genes’ chances of survival at all. This is thanks to the thousands of others who also carry precisely the same genes — the same genes for brown hair, or pale skin, or hemoglobin, or whatever. Will your genes survive? It depends vastly more on what they do, and hardly at all on what you do.

Your genes are not little avatars of your Self. They are not post-theistic souls on which to pin your dashed hopes for immortality. They are not even alive, for crying out loud. Want to save your genes for all eternity? Build a fifty-foot granite monument and inscribe them. It would work about as well for your purposes.

More Caplan:

I’m touched to see Tyler publicly defending me and my clone, and think I ought to respond to his only reservation:

If I have any criticism of Bryan, it’s that he’s pro-natalist (fine in my book) but I’ve never heard him promote the idea of adopting a child or defend the idea of raising a biological child who is, for whatever reason, very different from his or her parents.  (Don’t overreact here and interpret his silence in a negative way, I’m simply goading him to take up these issues, which I think will force him to revise his thought.)
I probably haven’t addressed these issues because my views are conventional.  On adoption: I think that adoption is a noble, generous act, and admire those who do it.  But I personally don’t want to adopt.  On raising a biological child very different from myself: Of course I’d still love and raise him/her.  My post on “parenthood as the trump of all past regret” is predicated on this endowment effect.  Still, I’m honest enough to admit that I’d be happier if my child and I had a lot in common.

More Kuznicki:

I am astonished that someone writing a book about children can have such prejudiced views about adoption. I see these views all the time among friends and family, but never, as a rule, among experts in the field.

I wonder how many adoptive parents Bryan talked to in his research. How many books and articles did he read about adoption? Did he talk to any social workers, child psychologists, or even — call me crazy — actual adopted kids? Or did he just recycle the same glurge I always get from casual acquaintances when I tell them that I adopted a daughter? (“Oh wow, that’s so great of you. Tell me though, why didn’t you get a surrogate mom?”)

Overwhelmingly, parents adopt for exactly the same reasons that lead others to have kids in the biological way. The “mode” adoptive parent in the United States is heterosexual, married, and infertile. But they want kids just like anyone else, and for the very same reasons. The only catch is that they aren’t able to have kids in the cheap, fun, and conventional way.

Adopting is a pain — it means tons of paperwork, hours of interviews, repeated hearings before various officials, thousands of dollars in fees, criminal background checks, home safety inspections, financial reviews, invasive medical tests, and possibly years of waiting. (All for good reasons, I’d add.)

Compare all that to an evening of sexual intercourse, and it’s obvious why adoption is a second choice — as a method.[1] But that doesn’t mean that adopted kids are a second choice. If anything, it may mean that adoptive parents are more committed to parenting than many “natural” parents. It’s not like we end up here on accident. Which quite a few bio-parents do, of course. And many infertile couples — those among them least committed to parenting — don’t ever adopt.

Perhaps all this is what brought Bryan to think of adoption as noble. But saying that adopting a child is “generous” is both an insult and an undeserved, patronizing compliment.


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